Hurling and camogie

Kelly takes the direct approach to All-Ireland glory for Antrim

Antrim's Maeve Kelly with her Player of the Match award after the All-Ireland Intermediate Camogie Championship Final in Croke Park on Sunday Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

All-Ireland Intermediate camogie championship final

WHAT do you do when you pick up possession 40 metres from goal and you are confronted by, not one but, two defenders? Well, you take your point.

Actually you don't, if you are Maeve Kelly.

“When I picked up the sliotar, I saw the two of them about five or six yards ahead of me and I knew I had to get past them.”

It was the 20th minute of a game that had swung from end to end of Croke Park and the scores were level at 0-7 each. Kelly brushed her way past the two covering defenders and got a sight of goal.

“I thought this is my chance, but then I felt I was going to get hooked. I dropped the sliotar but luckily it came straight back up and there was no way it wasn't going to the back of the net," she said.

That mix of power, deft footwork and composure was similar to the goal she scored against Down in last year's final in Kingspan Breffni. Back then that major put Antrim briefly into the lead, but their Ulster neighbours responded brilliantly to deny her and the team glory in December. There was no way this was going to happen on Sunday.

“No, there was no way we were going to take our eye off the next ball out there today. It was probably a good thing that Kilkenny gave us a bit of a scare at the start, going two up – maybe it was more.

“Against Galway (in the semi-final) we got the good start and we went so far up that we sort of got distracted and lost sight of things and they got back into it.

“Today was a really physical game. It might have looked comfortable for us near the end, but we weren't feeling that. There were a lot of hard hits out there and they took plenty of good scores. I suppose that makes it all the more satisfying to know that you were in a good game, playing against one of the best teams.”

Coming up to the second water-break, Kilkenny free-taker Sophie O'Dwyer took a chance from a 20 metres free and fired low to the Antrim net to reduce the Saffrons' lead to just four points. The Antrim response was impressive.

“When that happened, we knew we had to reset, win the next ball and get a score of our own and that was what we did.

“Róisín (McCormick) and Caitrín (Dobbin) and the goal. We knew we had to get those scores and it shows the focus, the drive, the want that we had to get the next score and then another and another. Once we got those scores, we knew nothing would stop us.

“It was only at the end that I looked up at the score-board and realised we scored 2-21. That is an amazing scoreline and to put together a performance like that in Croke Park, it is just a dream.”

Kelly ended up with 1-5 beside her name, all the scores from open play, but she also turned over a lot of possession to set up scoring opportunities for others.

“The forwards have worked a lot on the defensive side of our game. When Kilkenny had possession we were all defenders. We didn't want to give them any time at all on the ball.

“Our defence has been so important all year, Chloe (Drain), Niamh (Donnelly, Cáitríona (Graham) in goals and Maria (Lynn) today. It was just a complete performance from everyone playing in Croke Park for the first time.”

Kelly, the RTÉ Player of the Match had been taken to All-Ireland camogie finals as a youngster on club trips and she added a note of poignancy.

“I came to Croke Park for the first time 10 years ago with a family friend, Karen Coyles, who died the next day. It's actually her 10-year anniversary today.

“Karen had been goalie here in 1997 when Antrim won the Junior All-Ireland and she was a real leader and role model to us youngsters around Ballycastle. I knew she was with me today and I thank God she was with us and she helped us get over the line.”

Antrim now have the opportunity to move up to senior championship next year and the 20-year-old student teacher in St Mary's Belfast is relishing the challenge.

“Every player wants to be playing at the top level and we are no different. We lost last year's Intermediate final and we saw what we needed to do pre-season to get back into the final and win it.

“We put in a lot of strength and conditioning work since Christmas and we have to keep that going and increase it.

“We are a young squad and I think that we can improve as players and as a team. We will do that up in senior.”

It hasn't been often that the Green Glens of Antrim has been blasted around Croke Park in response to a captain's victory speech. It was well-received on Sunday and 42 years on from the county's last senior success, plans are already being laid around this precocious group of players to collect a seventh O'Duffy Cup for the Saffrons. Kelly will be central to those plans.

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Hurling and camogie